Coronavirus: A Racial Pandemic

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An article by Sadiq Kahn was recently published in The Guardian as one of the first discussions on the disproportioned effect Coronavirus is having on the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community. In his piece, he discusses that despite the fact the BAME community makes up just fourteen per cent of the population, it accounts for one-third of critically ill patients in hospital.

An obvious factor contributing to the higher risk of the BAME community is the jobs they occupy. It is no secret that ethnic minorities constitute a large number of doctors, nurses, and social care workers in the NHS. One in five NHS staff is from a non-white ethnic group, allowing for the simplified explanation to be given that working with ill patients increases their risk.

The NHS published statistics in March 2019 showing that forty-three per cent of senior doctors and forty-seven per cent of junior doctors were from BAME backgrounds. I find these figures to be particularly interesting in the context of the UK’s ongoing race problem, which in recent years has been brought to public attention by artists such as Stormzy and Dave. If these rappers don’t convince you, maybe reports by the General Medical Council on the fact that doctors from BAME communities are twice as likely to face disciplinary action will. It would be interesting to see if the seventy-three per cent of Leave voters who admitted to being ‘worried about immigration’ throughout the course of the EU Referendum have the same beliefs now. Migrants have constituted such a large figure of the people working on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, risking their lives for us all during one of the biggest pandemics in history.

Whilst it may be easy to explain the effects through occupation, the reality is that socioeconomic factors are a key contributor to the fact that ethnic minorities are overrepresented in severe cases of coronavirus. People from BAME communities are often found in medical roles, but it remains a fact that they are less likely than white people to be paid the living wage. Statistics clearly show that people from minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience income poverty than white British people. An alarming seventy per cent of those in income poverty in Inner London are from minority ethnic groups. Poor living conditions in cramped, overcrowded accommodation with multiple generations under one roof explains the unsurprising link between socio-economic inequalities and health.

BAME people in the UK also continue to face a significant job gap, an issue which can be traced back to higher education. It recently came to light that black students were awarded a first-class honours degree four times less than white students in 2018 at the University of Leeds.

Coronavirus has exposed an embarrassingly high level of structural and institutional racism that continues to exist in the UK. Whilst some people may wish to avoid the uncomfortable truth by suggesting factors such as deficient vitamin D levels in communities, it seems clear that when people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be at risk than those with health conditions, the issue is a lot deeper. The Government has announced that it will launch an investigation into why people from minority ethnic backgrounds are being disproportionately affected, but it seems to me that there is little left to investigate. Three years on from Grenfell, history repeats itself. The working class BAME community, one of the most marginalised and oppressed groups in society, has been left vulnerable and unprotected. The outcome is fatal.

Nisha Chandar-Nair

Image: Wikipedia.